January 7, 2011
By TYRA DAMM
Dr. George Holden, a psychologist and professor at Southern Methodist University, studies relationships between parents and children. He's also the proud dad of three children – a recent college graduate, a college junior and a high school student.
Holden's most recent publication, in the journal Child Development Perspectives, describes the role that parents play in directing children along developmental paths.
His theory is that parents who provide the best guidance are those who recognize a child's strengths, help that child according to his needs and redirect when obstacles get in the way.
I spoke with Dr. Holden this week about his research. Here are excerpts.
Can you explain the theory you've written about?
One of the unrecognized, important roles that parents play is to guide their children on positive pathways of development. There are many different kinds of pathways: academic, learning, school-focused, social competence, athletic, musical, religious.
Some parents are into politics and rear their children to be politically savvy. Some parents of girls think, "What do I need to do to raise my daughter so she can get married?" Some have a general pathway of keeping the child from becoming a criminal.
What I argue is that part of the role of parents is to help the child identify where strengths and talents lie so they can develop the strengths and foster self-esteem.
Is the ability to provide good guidance innate? Or do parents who provide the best guidance have to study and work to get there?
Generally I'd say parents who are more conscious about it are going to do a good job. It's what I call meta-parenting, that is, parents thinking about their children and child-rearing outside of ongoing reactions.
Meta-parenting has four components: anticipating, assessing the child, problem solving and reflecting. All of those components are used and needed in the process of guidance.
When a child goes off track – with a peer problem, a health problem, dyslexia – how does the parent go about making course corrections? Do they take action or not? Do they choose a good solution? Who do they turn to? Do they get good sources of information to deal with the problem?
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